(Blog Read Time; 1 cup of tea and 3 biscuits)
Not long ago, I woke up (not physically, but metaphorically) and realised that I am ‘a Cyclist’.
On reflection, this is perhaps an unsurprising conclusion, though to me it was something of a revelation, and caused me to question how I ended up in this state. After all, is ‘riding a bicycle’ sufficient to declare, or consider yourself ‘a Cyclist’? Since many people ride bicycles, and for the moments that they are actually riding, they are certainly a cyclist. But when they are not on their bicycles, do they remain ‘a Cyclist’, or are they simply someone who rides a bicycle from time to time? This isn’t a fine line, in fact I’m sure that there isn’t a line, or if there is it’s a very blurry one. I also doubt there is a definitive answer, other than the use of inverted comma’s and capitals when referring to the term, and I am almost certain that there is no real need to know, but… I’ve got a blog to write.
Shortly after my epiphany, perhaps as a strange coincidence delivered by an external power to underline my conclusion, one of my good friends from the village, an older gentleman with whom I have shared more than a beer or two in the local pub, arrived at my front door with a carrier bag. He held out his hand and said ‘I saw this while I was in town today, and thought of you… and couldn’t not buy it for you’. With some trepidation, I took the bag, and pulled out a black t-shirt that on the front says… ‘Things I like almost as much as riding my bike 1. Looking at my bike 2. Talking about my bike 3. Buying bike accessories 4. Websites about bikes 5. Bacon’. No truer words could ever have been printed onto a t-shirt to describe how I feel about cycling, other than perhaps replacing bacon with beer. But, that would equally be a tough decision… a life without bacon, or life without beer? I think on balance, I’d keep beer, not bacon… but it’s very close! Besides, if you listen to the press, perhaps I should consider that both are going to give me an awful disease and I should not consume either, or at best only in moderation. So on balance, I am keeping both. Got me! (Interestingly the auto-correct brought up Gout as I typed ‘Got me’… a scarily accurate conclusion for the laptop to make from those two ingredients!)
I don’t think that someone else seeing these traits in me, makes me ‘a Cyclist’, but it is certainly an indication that something significant is going on that others can see in me. Recognising that I spend a lot of time on my bicycle, aside from this blog, I really do try not to bore people by talking about it. I will not introduce the topic myself, and will really try to measure my responses if some brave soul may ask for my opinion about something to do with cycling, but I also know that I fail miserably on many occasions. There is a visual giveaway that I’ve gone too far when peoples eyes roll back in their head as they pray for me to say something interesting about the political situation in Eastern Europe, or the annexing of Northern Ireland through Brexit. Or perhaps they’d prefer me to begin debating something eclectic like whether Rod, Jane and Freddie really got along off set?
There have been other moments of affirmation, like the first time I saw a TV advert for ‘La Passione’ clothing (available on Youtube). It ends with the conclusion that ‘Road is a way of life’, and beautifully illustrates many of the joys of cycling. The well regarded, yet inappropriate, ‘Snot Rocket’. The 3 dimensional Tetris challenge of getting your bicycle in the back of the car with as many components left attached as possible. The unclipping (or not) fall at the junction. The cycling tan when you finally go the swimming pool wearing normal shorts after months of only wearing mid-thigh bib shorts. All brilliant observations of life as ‘a Cyclist’. All embarrassing and / or frustrating. And most cyclists have done them all, some of which are a right of passage. Certainly the unclipping (or not) is one that, to consider yourself ‘a Cyclist’, you have to have done at least once. I’ve done it twice, and both adjacent to very busy outdoor drinking venues. ‘Earth swallow me up’ – and that’s your only hope because there is nothing like the sound of falling off your bicycle. If the crowds of unforgiving happy drinkers didn’t see it, they all heard it. Falling off your bike has a particular soundtrack, and when you hear it, you know very well what just happened.
While self-affirmation is one thing, many ‘Cyclists’ share their love of the sport with other like minded individuals, and do so through something called a ‘Cycling Club’. I am also a member of a ‘Cycling Club’. It is a very exclusive one, with only 4 members whose residences are separated by approximately 600 kilometres, and needless to say the club coffee run is rare, but fantastic! One of the members very kindly sent all of the other members a book that is simply called, ‘The Rules’. These rules are ‘The Way of the Cycling Disciple’, provided to us by ‘The Velominati’ who are ‘The Keepers of the Cog’. As a club, we refer to these rules A LOT, in particular Rule #5. This book is the single most important piece of cycling literature I have read to date. It clarifies many aspects of cycling with a stark brutality, and while a lot must be in jest (surely!), there are some real nuggets that you will internalise (even though you may not know you’re doing it!) and you’ll embed them in your actions of cycling, whether you are ‘a Cyclist’ or not. I’m not going to provide too much colour here, as you should do The Velominati a favour and buy the book and read away, it really is brilliant. I won’t say liking this book (or not) is the definitive qualification of being ‘a Cyclist’ (or not), but you may find that your feelings for cycling are far more widespread than you thought possible, perhaps normalising your own love for it, and cultivating it to grow further (Is this too much for you?). The Velominati provide nearly 100 rules, and given my cursory flick through them all, I reckon that I am in agreement with / follow 92% of them! As 92% is more than I ever obtained in any exam, including my degree which allows me to refer to myself as a ‘something’, I think I can wholeheartedly call myself a ‘Cycling Disciple’, as well as a BSc Joint Hons, in Something Rather Pointless.
One of the most interesting moments in anyone’s pursuit of cycling as a hobby, is when they meet someone new, at the pub for instance, who recognises your love of 2 wheels, and gleefully exclaims / asks; ‘Ha, you’re a lycra lover… do you shave your legs too? Ha ha ha ha ha’. They really are funny, really funny… what a total ‘Richard’! Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to laugh it off and have a giggle about how being a MAMIL is quite embarrassing isn’t it, ya da ya da… However, some ‘Cyclists’ faced with this situation can lift their trouser leg, show a fabulously manicured, super tanned leg and say, ‘Yes, would you like a feel? Jealous, aren’t you, ‘Richard’?’. I’ve had numerous opportunities to do so and not had the commitment to do it. But, as I have now recognised that I am ‘a Cyclist’ after all, if I am well manicured at the time, I’ll do it and report back on the result, how well the ‘Richard’ handled it, and whether I’m banned from every establishment in the town as a result.
And this brings me to a current dilemma…
It’s summer, and by now I’ve normally got the trimmer and razor out and had a good hack at the many hairs on my legs. I actually tried an epilator ONCE… holy moly… what an horrific experience, even dealing with just the square 3 cm section that I could bare. So without solid technological solution, it’s either wax, or commit to a summer of cuts around my knees, and unreasonably long showers as I fight with shaving gel and how to shave the back of my thighs without being able to see them. Frankly the back of the thigh becomes a cursory guess, and I dread to think what they actually look like from behind when au naturelle. Waxing, I’m not doing it myself, and I simply haven’t got the kahuna’s to waltz into my local beauty salon and ask for a leg wax… and where do you / they stop?!?!
So far this year I remain furry. I’ve only taken to ‘shorts’ in the last 3 weeks, and now I’m not sure I can be bothered with the fight, and losing precious time every two days, in order to prevent the ‘iron filing’ look – which is certainly not cycling chic! You’re either committed to do it, or don’t bother. There are clearly drawbacks of doing it, never mind what your ‘less diverse’ mates at the pub (mostly called ‘Richard’) will say when you head for a cheeky Sunday afternoon drink wearing your shorts. But there are many good reasons to do it… massages are less stressful for your skin and the masseuse’s hands; aerodynamics (really?!?!); but crucially, if you come off, it will save valuable time, effort and pain at the hospital when they’re trying to pick grit and hair out of the wounds before they can treat them. In this scenario, hair can be an unnecessarily painful complication – where the pain of removing it before the event could well be worth it, should the worst happen! And since contact with the road is more likely in the winter, you’d be wise to do it year round! Oof… that’s some commitment to the cause.
The case for removing the hair from my legs would, therefore, appear pretty solid and yet the razor has stayed in the packet… though at the end of the day, nothing screams ‘I am a Cyclist’ quite like it!
But – I don’t need to scream ‘I am a Cyclist’. I’m just doing the things on and crucially off the bicycle that make riding it more fun, more engaging and even sometimes a little quicker – and I’m only doing it for me, no one else.
And if that makes me ‘a Cyclist’, and you’re still willing to talk to, or be seen with me… that’s fine by me.